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Cooking Local Autumn Massaged Kale Salad

September 28, 2012

 

 Welcome back to the kitchen. We are in the early stages of fall, and the shift of seasons is all around us. But thankfully we are still very much in the thick of the harvest, with season-ending frosts still some weeks away. This is great news for foodies. I highly recommend paying several visits to your local farmers market and stocking up on as much as you can, while the getting’s good.

 Research the best methods for preserving your favorite foods. Some things are incredibly easy to keep, like potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash, which need little in the way of preservation except for cooler temperatures and dark, dry spots to hang out through the lean winter months. Or maybe you’d enjoy making huge batches of pestos, tomato sauces, soups, and stews, and filling up the freezer with ready made meals for cold nights after a hard day on the slopes. Or perhaps you are a bit more ambitious, and this is the year you finally throw that canning party you’ve always talked about, and put up jars of fruits, veggies, pickles, kimchis, and krauts. 

 Although some preservation methods can be a bit time intensive, I promise you you’ll feel like a millionaire if you stock up your pantry and freezer with precious local foods while they are in peak season. I guess I’m just trying to get you in the mind set that winter is coming (as Game of Thrones fans well know), and now is the time to think ahead to the pleasure of eating local through the dark and icy days ahead.

 That being said, today’s recipe actually focuses on a ubiquitous fresh ingredient that is easy to grow and has a nice long growing season. It is also an ingredient that can get unfortunately overlooked as overly healthy and underly tasty. I’m talking here about kale. Yes, kale, that hearty leafy green that your health nut friend is always trying to force on you. It is hearty, designed to survive a frost, and can sometimes be quite bitter or tough. You may have tried kale and think that you are not a fan. But the thing is, kale is usually handled incorrectly in the home kitchen, so it suffers an undeserved reputation as rabbit food. 

 So I challenge you to put your reservations aside, find a nice big bunch of kale or two, and settle in for some body work. No, not on you, on the kale. Yes, it turns out the secret to loving raw kale is a good, vigorous massage. Have I lost you here? Are you rolling your eyes at the radio? I know for some of you this episode was woo woo enough already by starring kale, but now we are going to massage it too?! What’s next, light some incense and read the kale’s chakras? 

 No, no, nothing like that. What we are actually doing by massaging kale is breaking down some of the toughness inherent in this brassica, making it more tender, delicious, and permeable to a tasty dressing. Basically, most raw kales are not all that pleasant to chew up, and I can understand why they have been relegated to inedible hippy foods in some poor souls minds. But, as many of you smarty pants already know, kale can be super delicious, and it is also super good for you.

 So for those of you who need to be convinced kale can be awesome raw, and for those of you who just need to refresh your already extensive kale recipe regimen, I present for your consideration some simple raw massaged kale salads. Trust me, treat your kale to a little vigorous rubdown and it will treat you to a delicious dish!

 The main salad I want to make today celebrates the start of fall. It is a massaged kale salad with sauteed shallots and apples topped with roasted pumpkin seeds and a honey lemon mustard dressing. The sweet apples offset the tangy mustard dressing, the sauteed shallots add a sweet earthiness, and the toasted pumpkin seeds add a delicious crunch plus some good protein.

 Keep in mind here that we are talking more about the technique of preparing raw kale, and any number of great salad recipes could work here, like an Asian kale slaw with sesame soy ginger dressing, red pepper, edamame, tofu, sesame seeds, and thin slivers of pickled ginger. Or go for the height of simplicity and make a lemon avocado massaged kale salad. Just puree one and a half ripe avocados with the juice of two lemons, slice up the remaining avocado half, and toss with a big bunch of lightly salted and well massaged kale. Yum!

 Before we even get started, I want to expand on our technique for raw kale. First of all, using a chef’s knife you are going to cut out and discard all the stems, as they are quite tough and can be more bitter. Also, you want to cut up the kale into manageable, bite sized pieces. For even more tenderness we can employ a chiffonade technique, which basically consists of stacking up the leaves, rolling them tightly, then cutting them across the roll with a sharp knife to produce thin ribbons. This will make the kale even more tender and easy to chew, and is a good reminder that some thoughtful knife work, especially in raw dishes, can make all the difference. 

 But enough of this yakking, right? Let’s make this massaged kale autumn salad with sauteed shallots and apples, pumpkin seeds, and a mustardy dressing (if you’ve got a less awkward name for this dish, please let me know).

 We’ll need:

-1 large bunch of kale (I like using the curly leaf stuff for this, but its up to you), stems removed and chiffonaded or cut into bite sized pieces
-3 medium shallots, skins removed and cut into thin slices
-1 local apple (make sure it is from this year’s harvest, as we are still pretty early into apple season), seeded and chopped into bite sized pieces
-1/2 cup shelled and toasted pumpkin seeds
-about ¼ teaspoon kosher or other large grain salt (a pinch or so of salt should suffice)
-about 2 or 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (1 tablespoon reserved aside)

 

 For the rest of the dressing we’ll need:

-1 teaspoon deli mustard
-about 1/2 teaspoon honey (a drizzle)
-1/2 clove minced and crushed garlic
-1 teaspoon lemon juice
-1 or 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (a “splash”, if you will)

 

 We will start out by massaging the kale, because we want to let it start to wilt and break down a bit, which I swear to you will drastically improve not just its texture but will significantly sweeten its flavor as well. Just put all the chopped kale into a large bowl, sprinkle with the coarse salt, and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil.

 Now the fun part. Just get in there with your hands and vigorously massage those leafy greens! Squeeze the kale through your fingers, toss it around the bowl, and rub leaves against each other. You should notice the color immediate change and darken a bit. This means the massage is working! After a bit, try a massaged bit and see if it isn’t tastier and more tender. If not, keep up the bodywork. When the kale is all nicely massaged, set it aside to keep breaking down on its own.

 Next, heat up the rest of the oil to medium high in a cast iron skillet. When the oil is hot, toss in the sliced shallots, which have an amazingly sweet yet nutty flavor compared to even the sweetest onions. After the first minute or so, turn the heat down to medium low and give the shallots a stir. You can slice up and toss in the other half of the garlic clove if you wish.

 Saute the shallots, stirring occasionally and reducing the heat as necessary, until they have softened and darkened to a golden caramel brown. At this point, briefly toss in the chopped apples and saute for another couple of minutes. We aren’t trying to cook the apples, just warm them a little and imbue them with the shallot flavor. 

 When the apples and onions (or in this case shallots) are done, let them cool just a bit before tossing them in with the massaged kale. Mix the rest of the dressing ingredients together and slowly drizzle it over the salad, a little at a time. You may not need to add it all, depending on your tastes. Finally, toss in the toasted pumpkin seeds, and voila, a delicious, simple harvest salad making good use of raw kale. And it all comes down to that massage technique! The mustard and apples and shallots play so nicely together, and the kale is deliciously chewy without being tough. This recipe would be delicious with some crispy thick cut bacon pieces, by the way, plus a grind of black pepper, but I leave those additions, and others, up to your imagination.
 For now, I hope I’ve convinced a few kale haters to give this wonderful vegetable another try. And for those of you who already love kale, I hope the massaged raw salad version only ups your enjoyment. What recipes are you working on this fall? Send me any questions or comments to isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking Local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.